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A novel mechanism for nicotinic potentiation of glutamatergic synapses.


Selective strengthening of specific glutamatergic synapses in the mammalian hippocampus is critical for encoding new memories. This is most commonly achieved by input-specific Hebbian-type plasticity involving glutamate-dependent coincident presynaptic and postsynaptic depolarization. Our results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which nicotinic signaling, independently of coincident fast glutamatergic transmission, increases synaptic strength in the hippocampus. Electrophysiological recordings from rat hippocampal neurons in culture revealed that 1-3 h of exposure to 1 μm nicotine, even with action potentials being blocked, produced increases in both the frequency and amplitude of miniature EPSCs. Possible mechanisms were analyzed both in mouse organotypic slice culture and in rat cell culture by inducing the cells to express super-ecliptic pHluorin-tagged GluA1-containing AMPA receptors, which fluoresce only on the cell surface. Pharmacological and genetic manipulation of the cells, in combination with fluorescence-recovery-after-photobleaching experiments, revealed that nicotine, acting through α7-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on the postsynaptic neuron, induces the stabilization and accumulation of GluA1-containing AMPA receptors on dendritic spines. The process relies on intracellular calcium signaling, PDZ [postsynaptic density-95 (PSD-95)/Discs large (Dlg)/zona occludens-1 (ZO-1)] interactions with members of the PSD-95 family, and lateral diffusion of the GluA1 receptors on the cell surface. These findings define a new avenue by which nicotinic signaling modulates synaptic mechanisms thought to subserve learning and memory.

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